Students in the San Miguel Joint Union School District used to have art and music programs. They once had a full-time librarian, and their teachers used to stand in front of smaller classes and have access to more materials.
But that was before several years of budget cuts resulted in fewer programs, materials and, for the North County district, five fewer days of instruction per year.
And if a ballot measure aimed at stabilizing education funding fails in November, the cuts could go even deeper.
“I am concerned about the students in my school,” said Mary Strobridge, a 24-year teaching veteran who works as a reading specialist at Lillian Larsen Elementary in San Miguel.
Strobridge and other local educators and students gathered Thursday afternoon at Cuesta College to show their support for Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax hike measure on the November ballot.
They didn’t mention the competing measure on the ballot. Proposition 38, an income tax increase proposal sponsored by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, would raise income taxes on most Californians for 12 years.
Proposition 30 is a temporary measure that would increase sales tax by a quarter-cent for the next four years, and would raise income tax for Californians earning more than $250,000 per year for seven years.
If it doesn’t pass, supporters say, the results could be devastating for students. Schools and colleges across the state stand to lose an additional $6 billion in cuts this year if voters reject the increases.
That equates to a $16 million cut in funding for K-12 districts in San Luis Obispo County, a nearly $3 million cut to Cuesta College and a $14 million to $15 million hit to Cal Poly.
The California State University Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved a tuition increase for next year, but doing so is dependent on what happens Nov. 6.
Failure of Proposition 30 would trigger a $250 million funding cut to the 23-campus system. The 5 percent tuition hike — equal to $150 per semester — would raise about $58 million in 2012-13 and push annual tuition up to $6,270.
“Students can’t afford another tuition increase,” said Jessie Kain, a Cal Poly student studying environmental management.
If Proposition 30 fails, Cuesta College could lose about $2.85 million this year, which would bring the total loss in funding to nearly $7 million since 2007-08.
The college would be forced to cut about 100 sections of courses, said Toni Sommer, vice president of academic services.
School boards overseeing K-12 districts could decide to cope with the cuts by shortening the academic year. That’s already happened in San Miguel and Paso Robles.
Board members could also decide to use funds for programs, such as the Regional Occupation Program, to fill gaps in their general funds. Doing so could ultimately hurt the local economy, several speakers said.
For example, at least five recent graduates of San Luis Obispo High who participated in the school’s auto shop program are working for local businesses in San Luis Obispo, said San Luis Coastal Unified School Board member Mark Buchman.
“If there is no tax increase, there’s going to be more cuts and we’re at the point where we’re actually impacting local businesses,” he said.
Dr. Julian Crocker, the county’s superintendent of schools, closed the news conference with an appeal to voters.“It’s an opportunity to start to rebuild our public education system,” he said. “Our future is our children, and we need to invest in them now.”